In British English, wog is an offensive racial slur usually applied to Middle Eastern and South Asian peoples. In Australian English, wog is a term for people with Mediterranean features and is usually applied to people from Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region either as a term of friendship, in jest, or as a racial slur.
The origin of the term is unclear. It was first noted by lexicographer F.C. Bowen in 1929, in his Sea Slang: a dictionary of the old-timers’ expressions and epithets, where he defines coonwogs as "lower class Babu shipping clerks on the Indian coast." Many dictionaries say "wog" derives from the golliwogg, a blackface minstrel doll character from a children's book published in 1895, or from pollywog, a maritime term for someone who has not crossed the equator. Suggestions that the word is an acronym for "Wily Oriental Gentleman", "Working On Government Service", or similar, are examples of false etymology.
In Australia, the term 'wog' refers to residents of Mediterranean ethnicity or appearance. The slur became widely diffused with an increase in immigration from Southern Europe, mainly Italy and Greece, after the Second World War. These new arrivals were perceived by the majority population as contrasting with the larger Anglo-Australian/Anglo-Celtic Australian culture. The term expanded to include not just Southern European Mediterraneans but Mediterranean peoples in general, including Middle Eastern immigrants.
Use in British English
Wog in the UK is usually regarded as a racially offensive slang word referring to a dark-skinned or olive-skinned person from Africa or Asia and, therefore, it is not generally used. It is used generally to refer to peoples of the East Indies and India, as well as immigrants from the Middle-East and Mediterranean. Most dictionaries describe to the word as derogatory or offensive.
The saying "The wogs begin at Calais" (implying that everyone who is not British is a wog) appears to date from the First World War, but was popularised by George Wigg, Labour MP for Dudley, in 1949 when in a parliamentary debate concerning the Burmese, Wigg shouted at the Conservative benches, "The Honourable Gentleman and his friends think they are all 'wogs'. Indeed, the Right Honourable Member for Woodford [i.e. Winston Churchill] thinks that the 'wogs' begin at Calais."
Use in Australian English
As with other slang and prima facie profanity used in contemporary Australian English, the term "wog" may be employed either aggressively or affectionately within differing context. "Wog" is used particularly against Mediterranean and Middle Eastern immigrants in places in Australia, mainly Sydney and Melbourne. These cover those of Southern European or Southeastern European (Italian-Australian, Greek-Australian, etc.), Middle Eastern or Levantine (Lebanese-Australian, Arab Australian, etc.), North African, Turkish, and Caucasus heritage.
In the media
More recently, Southern European-Australian performing artists have taken ownership of the term "wog", defusing its original pejorative nature—the popular 1980s stage show Wogs Out of Work created by Nick Giannopoulos and Simon Palomares was an early example. The production was followed on television with Acropolis Now, starring Giannopoulos, Palomares, George Kapiniaris and Mary Coustas, and films The Wog Boy and Wog Boy 2: Kings of Mykonos and parodies such as those of Santo Cilauro (Italian), Eric Bana (Croatian-German), Vince Colosimo (Italian), Nick Giannopoulos (Greek), Frank Lotito (Italian), Mary Coustas (Greek) and SBS Television's offbeat Pizza TV series have continued this change in Australian cultural history—with some even classifying a genre of 'wogsploitation' of pop-culture products being created by and for a proudly "wog" market. Recent works of the genre have been used by Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds to assert ethnic identity, rather than succumb to ethnic stereotype. Upon the release of Wog Boy 2, Giannopoulos discussed the contemporary use of the term "wog" in the Australian context:
I think by defusing the word 'wog' we've shown our maturity and our great ability to adapt and just laugh things off, you know... When I first came [to Greece] and I started trying to explain to them why we got called 'wog' they'd get really angry about it, you know. They were, "Why? Why they say this about the Greek people?" You know? But then when they see what we've done with it—and this is the twist—that we've turned it into a term of endearment, they actually really get into that...
Thus, in contemporary Australia, the term "wog" may, in certain contexts, be viewed as a "nickname" rather than a pejorative term—akin to the nicknames ascribed within Australian English to other historically significant cultural groupings such as the English ("Poms"), the Americans ("Yanks") and New Zealanders ("Kiwis").
Use in Canada
In Canadian military slang used by combat arms units (that is, front line fighting forces), it is a derogatory term for any rear echelon personnel and those who are not a member of the combat arms.
The word "wog" is used by Scientologists to refer to non-Scientologists. In her 2013 account of growing up in Scientology, Jenna Miscavige Hill writes, "[We] had been led to believe the outside world was filled with ignorant people whom we called wogs, short for 'Well and Orderly Gentlemen.' From what we were taught, WOGS were completely unenlightened; after we'd been trained in auditing and Scientology, it would be our job to 'clear' them. Wogs were to be avoided because they were unaware of what was really going on, and their unawareness was reflected in their shallow priorities. Wogs liked to ask a lot of questions. We were led to believe that they would find our lifestyle alarming, so we had to be careful that, when speaking to them, we spoke in terms they could understand."
From a 2004 Church of Scientology magazine: "I arrived at Saint Hill shy, introverted and somewhat out of valence. I had been working at a wog job, and I knew my priorities had to change...."
Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard defined wog as a
- "common, everyday garden-variety humanoid ... He 'is' a body. [He] doesn't know he's there, etc. He isn't there as a spirit at all. He is not operating as a thetan."
L. Ron Hubbard employed the term in his lectures and writings. Since wog is not in general use in American English, Hubbard may have picked it up during his period of service as a US naval officer during World War II (1941–1945) or in England, where he lived from 1953 to 1966.
- "'Golliwog' is not connected with 'wog'". The Daily Telegraph (London). 5 February 2009.
- David Wilton, Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, Oxford University Press, 2008
- "Wog" at WordOrigins.org. Retrieved 18 October 2014
- Hansard, House of Commons 5th series, vol. 467 col 2845.
- e.g. bastard and cunt
- "Wogsploitation makes its mark in mainstream". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 May 2003.
- Clark, Andrew (2006-10-13). "A bad word made good". The Guardian (London).
- Jessica Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology And My Harrowing Escape,' William Morrow, New York, 2013, p. 50
- The Auditor UK #318 June 2004 p5
- Saint Hill Briefing Course-82 6611C29
- "We're making a new [society]. So let's skip the approval button from a lot of wogs and settle down to work to make new people and better people." — Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter 26 May 1961
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